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Longboat Key Friday, Apr. 5, 2019 4 months ago

Trial dates set in Colony cases

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Developer has sought judicial termination of condominium association to proceed.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

A trio of dates set for this summer, next winter and 2020 could help determine the course of a hotel and condominium complex proposed for land formerly occupied by the Colony Beach & Tennis Resort.

Since early 2018, Unicorp National Developments Corp. has been seeking judicial termination of the former resort’s condominium association in an effort to reach a point at which the company could buy out the remaining owners of individual units. Unicorp, which owns 37 of 244 units, has been unable to reach the required 91% approval level among unit owners to voluntarily terminate the condominium association and has sought a solution through the courts.

On a parallel path, Unicorp and its CEO Chuck Whittall have proposed a hotel/condominium complex on the land at 1620 Gulf of Mexico Drive, to be operated as a St. Regis Hotel and Residences property. Throughout 2017, Unicorp gained permission from the town of Longboat Key to plan and design the property with 166 hotel rooms, 78 condominiums and a wide array of public spaces and resort amenities, valued at around $600 million.

Building permits, though, are contingent on Unicorp gaining control of the entire property. It’s this sequence of court events, running into April 2020, that could determine what will follow with the project.

Whittall said he was encouraged by the developments of last week. “This is unequivocally going to terminate,” he said. “This is the very quick beginning of the end.”

Judge Hunter W. Carroll of the 12th Judicial Circuit last week set Aug. 1-2 to hear witness testimony in a bench-trial setting on whether Unicorp is entitled to seek a termination of the former resort’s condominium association — the Colony Beach & Tennis Club Association Inc.

Carroll set a December date to hear a cross-claim for damages from unit owner Andy Adams, Breakpointe LLC and Colony Beach Investors LLC against Colony Beach & Tennis Club Association Inc. for failing to maintain the resort’s buildings, which were deemed a public-safety hazard last summer by the town and ordered demolished. In a competitive bid process, Unicorp was awarded the job after bidding to accomplish the work for free.

And the judge set April 6, 2020 to begin a non-jury bench trial to decide on the termination of condominium request and how the remainder of the former Colony’s units would be sold: via partition sale, public auction or private sale.

Even if Unicorp’s request to dissolve the Colony Beach & Tennis Club Association Inc., fails, attorney Brett M. Henson, who represents Adams and other related owners who control about 30% of the units, said his clients’ push for the property to be partitioned and sold in pieces will continue and be heard in 2020. Such a sale would complicate Unicorp’s plans to push forward with the St. Regis project.

If that request for a partitioned sale is denied, Henson said his client sees a public auction as the next-best avenue.

“Our position is that an auction will bring the highest value to the property, not just for our client, but for all owners,” he said.

The outcome of such an auction could result in Unicorp ultimately buying the remainder of the units it doesn’t already own and moving ahead, or another bidder could end up winning the day.

“My client could bid, Mr. Whittall can bid, any interested parties could bid,” Henson said.

Dan Lobeck, who represents unit owners Sheldon and Carol Rabin in a similar damages case against the association, said he also thinks an auction is the best way for owners to reap the best value. But he cautioned the condo association can’t be dissolved until his clients have had a chance to hear their damages claims heard in December.

“It’s only fair and just that the association’s spigot not be turned off,” he said.

Unicorp most recently gained approval from town commissioners to erect later this year a temporary sales office on the site to inform potential customers of what’s planned.

 Such a sales office had previously not been possible without project building permits approved, but the town OK’d a zoning text amendment allowing such an operation on sites of at least eight acres and at least 40 residential units.

Henson’s clients objected to the sales office, writing a letter that read: “At minimum, the erection of a temporary sales facility will result in pedestrian foot and vehicular traffic which infringes upon our clients’ use and enjoyment of their interests in the property,” Henson wrote. “A temporary sales facility will require our clients to absorb additional liability for potential injuries or damages to third parties visiting the sales facility.”

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